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UTRGV offering new master’s degree in Disaster Studies in fall 2016

UTRGV Associate Professor William Donner discusses Geographic Information Systems with graduate research assistants Bianca Lopez and Karen Rodriguez. Donner, the sociology program coordinator, along with Dr. Walter Diaz, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, oversaw development of the new Master of Arts in Disaster Studies program at UTRGV. (UTRGV photo by Paul Chouy)

By Gail Fagan

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – MAY 24, 2016 – The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is now accepting applications for its new Master of Arts in Disaster Studies program, which will be offered at the university for the first time in fall 2016.

The 36-hour program has a thesis and a non-thesis option and will provide students with formal training in a transdisciplinary and multicultural approach to the study and management of disasters.

The classes, offered on both the Edinburg and Brownsville campuses and online, will include social and natural sciences, government and public administration, humanities and Geographic Information Systems.

“Graduates will acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to manage the human dimensions, like warning response and intergovernmental coordination, as well as the physical dimensions, such as flood surge engineering, of common hazards like severe weather, major floods and chemical accidents,” said Dr. William Donner, sociology program coordinator who, along with Dr. Walter Diaz, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, oversaw development of this master’s program.

Students also will take core courses in research methods and statistics.

“These skills are necessary to provide data in support of decision-making, and are critical to public safety planning initiatives,” said Donner, whose research expertise includes disasters and statistics.

Donner and Diaz said there currently is a high demand for emergency management practitioners at the state and local levels and, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, there will be a projected 20 percent growth in disaster/emergency management employment opportunities through 2020.

“Graduates from the program can fill a wide range of career opportunities as emergency management specialists, homeland security officers, hospital emergency preparedness administrators, public health planners, communication officers and emergency response technicians,” Donner said. “If you are planning to do teaching and research, there is a thesis option in which you focus more on scholarship. It is a very flexible degree program.”

Diaz said that, with the South Texas region’s concentrated Hispanic population, poverty and climatological hazards, such as hurricanes and flooding, there are few institutions in the United States housed in an area with a population that suffers the degree of vulnerability as the Rio Grande Valley.

“If we can train emergency managers who can deal with populations that face that degree of vulnerability, there are two benefits,” Diaz said. “One, they can help the populations here immediately. And, they can go off into other areas with those kinds of tools, understanding why populations are vulnerable, why they respond the way they do, and help those folks out as well.”

Degree requirements to enter the program are a B.A. or B.S. in any major. GRE and TOEFL exam results are required. The deadline to apply is July 1.

For more information on the program, Edinburg students should contact Donner at Brownsville students should contact Dr. Dawid Wladlyka, lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, at

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